— Round 1 —
Technology has certainly changed the way learning occurs, and especially so in the last two decades. It has transformed our ability to access information from what equated to a country dirt road to an eight-lane superhighway. And while many traditional classrooms are not (for various reasons) taking advantage of the adaptability technology affords the learning enterprise, of even greater concern is the inevitable effect technology has had on the preexisting gap between the privileged and disadvantaged.
When we talking about the educational enterprise, we often speak only in local (or at best) regional terms. To speak in national or global terms is to attempt too lofty a goal. Those well read in educational theory know that formal learning and the kinds of education essential to economic and social betterment usually occur in developed countries. Technology's benefits seldom reach those who truly need it most. As such, the changing world referenced in the original article can only reference developed countries who possess the capacity to host such change and interact with it effectively so as to reap the rewards of its existence. For the less fortunate, the world goes on changing with out them, and their disadvantage is only brought into even starker contrast against the privilege that technological advances espouse and represent.
I agree that education needs a new norm. However, that needed norm extends beyond adapting learning models that take advantage of technological realities. The needed norm is that technology is used as a tool by the privileged to decrease the educational gap between themselves and the disadvantaged so that formal learning becomes an accessible reality to those who need it most.
While it is obvious that our students should be using the technological tools they are accustomed to in their everyday lives, focusing on the technology alone will lead our students nowhere.
True learning occurs when students are engaged in critical thinking, creation, and synthesizing new ideas. This kind of learning needs to mimic the real world. In the real world, when we use technology, we rarely consider it. When we Facetime or Skype family or friends, we simply believe we are communicating in hopes of catching up or finding answers. That is the place we need to move towards when using technology in education. Here technology is an organic, useful tool that is used regularly to find meaningful answers, solve relevant problems, communicate in ways we couldn't before, and to create in ways that will have a greater reach.
It is not just the technology that needs to be considered when we want to establish a new norm for learning, but the concept of traditional school itself. The typical school calendar was based on agrarian requirements which are unnecessary in many parts of the United States today. The idea of the Carnegie Unit, which determines how high school students are awarded credits based on grades and "seat time" was developed as a way to award teacher tenure over a century ago. However, it is common to still see students begin school in August and move from box to box, row to row once an hour until May or June the following year. This is a mimic of the production line, which are quickly being outsourced and moved to other countries where labor and tax expenditures are friendlier to the businesses.
Employers today are asking for skills of teamwork, problem solving, communication, data analysis, and leadership. Regardless of whether technology is present or not, by establishing a classroom that looks the same as it did decades ago, the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged will continue to widen. Our norm needs to be about 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Our design needs to be a response to what our students will experience in life. In this school, it is not about the technology, but about the learning.
— Round 2 —
If classrooms remain the same as they have for decades and one classroom has access to technology and another does not, the gap between privilege and disadvantaged will widen at a much faster rate than if both have access to technology. The reason for this is information. Technology increases the amount of information available and determines the kind of learning that will take place.
Teamwork, problem solving, leadership and data analysis are vital, yes, but it is far easier to make a change in classroom design that can achieve those learning outcomes than it is to bring technology, subsequent information, and socioeconomic empowerment to disadvantaged students.
If all other factors are equal, the lack of technology in disadvantaged schools and classrooms is the greatest menace to a better future for the students involved.
While it seems obvious that anyone could redesign a room or provide collaboration in teams in a classroom, the fact remains that many classrooms are not set up this way. Yes, technology will definitely enhance instruction and allow for smoother transitions, faster processes, and information to be obtained more quickly and from more resources.
The problem that remains is the perception that by providing students with technology, the learning will be enhanced. This is not true. Providing students with technology and treating the classroom no differently than it was set up fifty years ago leads to disengagement, distractions, and behavior infractions with the technology. Using the technology as a tool to prepare reports, essays, or to visit websites if a student finishes early is not tapping into the power of the technology. Without proper training, this is how many classrooms operate when using available technology.
On the other hand, a classroom in which students are actively involved in solving problems, researching answers, preparing presentations for those proposed solutions, working together to brainstorm ideas, and communicating with others shows high levels of engagement, leading to better retention and application of learning. This is greatly enhanced with technology because the processes are quickened and the availability of information is almost endless. However, take away the technology, and the students are still engaged. It may be more difficult to manage this type of learning without the technology, but it can still be done.
If we are treating technology as if it is a $500-$1000 pencil, we are doing a disservice to students not only in the fact that we are not capitalizing on the resources available, but also because we are being poor stewards with the financial resources we are providing. Technology should definitely be available to students. It will absolutely make a difference in how students learn and what they are capable of as graduates. But the real equity problem is not in what resources we provide students, but how we use those resources. It's not about the tools, it's about how they're used.